What This All-Star Christian Movie Gets Wrong About Christianity

If you read the reviews of “Do You Believe?”—the new Christian film from PureFlix—you will get a pretty good idea of whether you’re the movie’s intended audience. (Most of the reviewers, I think it’s safe to say, are not. See Rotten Tomatoes for a sampling of the critical scorn.) The film, a star-studded feature from the creators of 2014’s surprisingly profitable “God’s Not Dead,” is meant for Christians who want to see depictions of Christians helping the downtrodden of the world—and the downtrodden of the world getting their lives changed as a result.

Honestly, I don’t think that’s an entirely bad thing to want to see, provided one is a little bit self-reflective about it.  (Just as one ought to be with one’s love of any movie genre known to have troubling tropes, which is to say: all of them.)  “Do You Believe” offers itself pretty frankly as a Christian version of 2004’s “Crash.” Here, though, the car accident brings together a dozen Chicago souls in need of Jesus: an older couple (Cybill Shepherd and Lee Majors) who have lost a child, a mom (Mira Sorvino) and a daughter without a home, a veteran with PTSD, an EMT being persecuted for his faith, and more.

The plot is hamfisted, but criticizing the movie for having a contrived plot is like criticizing a Michael Bay film for having a lot of explosions. If you don’t like that kind of thing, you’re probably not who this movie was made for. And “Do You Believe?” is made for people who want to be inspired by a movie in which Christian belief and behavior works out for the best for everyone.

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Presumably, that feels good; perhaps it gives them ideas for how they might live out their faith in the vastly more complicated real world.

Ah, but that’s the real problem. “Do You Believe?” is not up to the task of helping its viewers discern the differences between its movie-version of the world, and the world they live in. And that’s a big deal precisely because of the sort of movie it is. It’s not escapism or fantasy or documentary—that’s why criticisms about it being “preachy” are a little silly.  It is, though, a movie pretty clearly intended to make Christians act a certain way toward the world they share with others. The deceit comes when “Do You Believe?” equates its version of Chicago with real-world Chicago, and by extension, the real world in general.

“Do You Believe?” hopes that its Christian viewers will come away thinking things like: all any problem really needs is a sincere, earnest Christian solution. In the United States, the filmmakers suggest, Christians are the only group of consequence being persecuted. Secular folks—or, really, any folks who don’t happen to be evangelical Christians—all feel personally affronted when a Christian couple prays before their meal in a restaurant. And perhaps most troubling: it’s definitely a good idea for a medical professional (an EMT, in this case) to proselytize an atheist patient who is critically injured. After all, who cares about the stress this could cause to the dying person, who now finds himself in the position of having to receive lifesaving care from someone who wants him to change his belief system? His soul is at stake. And anyone who prioritizes a different consideration—like allowing the critically injured person to retain some measure of control and psychological safety as he lies dying on the ground—is an enemy of Christianity.

(And apparently there are a lot of those around, because the EMT in question finds himself in court over “proselytization under the cover of authority.” Whether these are meant to be criminal or civil charges isn’t entirely clear in the context of the movie. I have not been able to find reference to them in the criminal or civil code of Illinois, where the movie is set. I did learn that many EMTs in Chicago are employed by private companies, in which case such an employee would not be violating the establishment clause by proselytizing.)

This is the movie’s big theological problem: a firm certainty that if it seems Christian to you, it probably is Christian, and is therefore a good thing in exactly the ways you think it’s a good thing.

Recall an oft-invoked criticism of first-person shooter games—that they immerse players in a virtual environment that feels very realistic, except that in this virtual world it’s a very good thing to try and kill as many people as possible. “Do You Believe?” is like that, only here one is meant to unleash Jesus on any situation whatsoever. No attention is paid to the possibility that even “Christian”-sounding convictions can be self-serving.  The screenwriters do not entertain the possibility that being faithful means exercising discernment about whether you’re being a fool for Christ or an entitled jerkface.

Early in the movie a white Prius-driving pastor (played by Ted McGinley) has an encounter with a black street evangelist (played by Delroy Lindo). This encounter, we’re meant to conclude, shakes the mild-mannered minister from his complacency. The next night he tells his congregation about his encounter, saying that he was so moved by it, so shaken, that it can only have been the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I overstate things when I suggest that the screenwriters mean for us to interpret their movie by the same rubric. The movie moves us… or, well, it moves the people it was intended for. Aha, that must be the Holy Spirit at work!

Theologically, though, such a rubric is entirely wrongheaded. If my mind should generate some pious-sounding blurt, and if I should then find it enjoyable to inflict that blurt on other people, then sure, I might be saying something profound, compassionate, and truthful about God and human existence. On the other hand, I might just like how I sound when I say “The Lord loves you.” I might like how that lets me take up space in the room, how it lets me describe other people’s lives for them rather than listening to them, how it makes me come off as a good person in others’ eyes. I might actually be persecuted for my beliefs and that that is the most important instance of discrimination ever; on the other hand, perhaps I just enjoy thinking that I am.  Maybe I find it gratifying.

And here’s the kicker: I am probably not in the best position to tell the difference. This isn’t some newfangled liberal fancy, either: since antiquity, Christian thinkers have dwelled on the human propensity to deceive oneself about one’s motives, especially where piety is concerned. The screenwriters, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, should know this. Heck, they’re Catholic!

One can (and should) say many things about how structures of power affect decisionmaking within the Catholic church, but it’s definitely not an everyone-for-themselves endeavor. Many schools of theological thought emphasize the need to discern communally, and to listen to one’s neighbors rather than to caricature them.

Ultimately, the offensive thing about “Do You Believe?” is not that it preaches, but that it preaches so poorly.

  • Veritas

    I enjoyed the movie, despite its sometimes heavy handed approach. The Holy Spirit does constantly work, I believe, as the movie described, but people often respond clumsily to its subtle callings. (And often more so when they finally hear that call)
    I enjoyed it most, not because it showed that all the problems have a Christian solution, but because it showed that all problems have, if not a solution, an appropriate Christian response.
    That response should be love, and often that is the first step to healing.

    The movie showed that people who were broken began to heal, not when they were loved, but when they reached out in love to help someone else. It was the truth in the Peace prayer of St Francis ” grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved, as to love.”

  • William Burns

    So that’s what Cybill Shepherd is up to these days.

  • i don’t know….
    _____________________

    Tour du lich Da Nang

  • Jim Reed

    Sarah, can you give us a definition of “Wrong about Christianity”?

  • apotropoxy

    Movies that tendentiously lecture on over-worn tropes are not likely to do good box office. But they do provide the majority another opportunity to claim they’re being marginalized.

  • indrag13

    I don’t believe.

  • Jim Reed

    in magic.

  • Judith Maxfield

    I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore, but every turn of the screw leaves me speechless. Recently, a news piece described a community parade whereby the organizers denied a Methodist Church to carry a banner that said Jesus (or God?) loved everyone. The organizers were all from very conservative churches worried about the ‘gay thing’ (my paraphrase). I always wondered why it bothered me to have someone out of the blue ask me “Have you accepted Jesus…you know the rest. As now a left-wing socialist Christian, “yah, you could care less about me, if I’m starving, ill, or abused, this is all you care about? I don’t like your god and I don’t need your god.” I one slammed the door in some one’s face over that. I don’t need to do that now, just feel sorry for them.

  • james warren

    Jesus was a man, a real human being who preached in Palestine. Those are statements of fact.

    Jesus was the Son of God, born of a virgin, the Messiah, etc. These are statements of faith.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    The Holy Spirit is NOT an”it”,Veritas.

  • okieggma

    Actually there is yet to be any evidence that he was a real human who preached in Palestine. Just so you know.

  • MarciaX

    Apparently, every Newsboys song from here on out is going to be a major motion picture.

  • Jim Reed

    It is possible there was a preacher in Palestine at the beginning of the first century, in fact it is likely. The problem that Christianity has is NONE of the books of the new testament were written about this person since they were all written about a spirit type being, or were fiction written later with no connection to this person because they are only connected to fiction.

  • Jim Reed

    God is a concept, we know because of John Lennon. Jesus was a myth, we know because of the Bible. The Holy Spirit is a mystery, at least we were taught that by the church.

  • “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” ~ Thomas Jefferson wrote, in a letter to John Adams (April 11, 1823)

  • What Would Jesus Do?

    Advocate child abuse and murder amongst many other cruelties.

    Christians are always claiming, “he’s the lamb”, “our savior”, “the king of peace”, “the embodiment of love”, amongst the many other names they associate with a loving, merciful nature. Jesus a nice guy? Not in my book. Nor in any other person’s who is capable of compassion and rationality. Let’s examine who the hell the Jesus character really is. These verses will show not only is Jesus’ “loving” nature a joke but so are the Christians who worship him. Jesus’ real mission to come to earth:

    Jesus says that he has come to destroy families by making family members hate each other. He has “come not to send peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34

    Jesus says, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace on earth! No, rather a sword lf you love your father, mother, sister, brother, more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. “The real beauty of this verse is that Jesus demands people truly love him more then they love their own family. I ask you how can we love someone that we can not see or interact with? Love is an emotion pertaining to physical existence not to faithful ideologies, yet God threatens you with Death just because your love for your mother maybe stronger than your love for him. Matthew 10:34

    Families will be torn apart because of Jesus. “Brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.” Matthew 10:21

    Jesus strongly approves of the law and the prophets. He hasn’t the slightest objection to the cruelties of the Old Testament. Matthew 5:17

    Jesus advocates murder and death:

    – Jesus condemns entire cities to dreadful deaths and to the eternal torment of hell because they didn’t care for his preaching. Matthew 11:20

    – Jesus, whose clothes are dipped in blood, has a sharp sword sticking out of his mouth. Thus attired, he treads the winepress of the wrath of God. (The winepress is the actual press that humans shall be put into so that we may be ground up.) Revelations 19:13-15

    – The beast and the false prophet are cast alive into a lake of fire. The rest of us the unchosen will be killed with the sword of Jesus. “An all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” Revelations 19:20-21

    Jesus says he is the only way to salvation yet he purposely disillusions us so that we will go to hell:

    – Jesus explains that the reason he speaks in parables is so that no one will understand him, “lest . . . they . . . should understand . . . and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Matthew 13:10-15

    – Jesus explains why he speaks in parables to confuse people so they will go to hell. Mark 4:11-12

    Jesus advocates child abuse:

    – Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees for not washing his hands before eating. He defends himself by attacking them for not killing disobedient children according to the commandment: “He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” Matthew 15:4-7

    – Abandon your wife and children for Jesus and he’ll give your a big reward. Jesus asks that his followers abandon their children to follow him. To leave your child is abuse, it’s called neglect, pure and simple. Matthew 19:29

    – Jesus criticizes the Jews for not killing their disobedient children according to Old Testament law. Mark 7:9

    A few other things about Jesus:

    – Jesus says that those who have been less fortunate in this life will have it even worse in the life to come. Mark 4:25

    – Jesus sends the devils into 2000 pigs, causing them to jump off a cliff and be drowned in the sea. Clearly Jesus could have simply sent the devils out, yet he chose instead to place them into pigs and kill them. This is called animal abuse. Mark 5:12-13

    – Jesus kills a fig tree for not bearing figs, even though it was out of season. Jesus must not be as smart as Christians would have us believe, for he was retarded enough to do something this silly. You’d think the son of god (god incarnate) would know that trees don’t bear fruit in dry season. Mark 11:13

    – Luke 12:47 Jesus okays beating slaves.

    Source: http://www.evilbible.com/what_would_jesus_do.htm

  • GREAT MOVIES

    The God That Wasn’t There http://www.thegodmovie.com/

    Constantine’s Sword http://www.jamescarroll.net/JAMESCARROLL.NET/Documentary.html Can also be found all over YouTube

    Theologians Under Hitler [a book: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300038897 and a DVD based on the book: http://www.theocracywatch.org/theologians_hitler.htm Which can also be found all over YouTube

  • Christian College President: We Canceled Bake Sale For LGBT Homeless Youth Because Of Their ‘Advocacy’: http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/_christian_college_president_we_canceled_bake_sale_lgbt_homeless_youth

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Presuming that you are old enough and wise enough,permit me to advise you, Mr.Reed:Per your remarks,the old adage yet applies: “Better to keep one’s mouth closed and be thought a fool,than to open it and remove all doubt”.

  • Jim Reed

    The point is nobody understands what the Holy Spirit is because it is not understandable. Calling it an “it” is probably the best we can do.

  • Diomedes

    Yes, because everything Thomas Jefferson said is magically true. That’s why the United States is an agrarian utopia of philosopher-farmers… oh, wait

  • Diomedes

    Good for you. No one cares.

  • Diomedes

    Great movies if you’re a pseudohistorian with an emotional investment in “disproving” Christianity rather than engaging in honest or factual scholarship.

  • XaurreauX Pont DeLac

    I believe in the magic of, uh, rock and roll…

  • indrag13

    actually, it’s ONLY you nobody cares about, not even your Jesus – Jesus hates you.

  • The Holy Spirit does constantly work, I believe, as the movie described, but people often respond clumsily to those subtle callings.

    ——————————————————-
    So, do you think that the reason there are a billion Hindus is because a billion people have “responding clumsily to the subtle callings” of the Holy Spirit?

  • Veritas

    My use of “it” was in itself a clumsy use of a no gendered pronoun, since amended, since it can be interpreted as referring to a creature or a being, when the Holy Spirit is instead, a part of the essence of ‘To Be’

  • Veritas

    It is human nature to seek understanding of ourselves and creation, many have said it is written on our hearts to seek our Creator. As Augustine said “our hearts are restless until they rest in You” I believe this is true. This is a call of the Holy Spirit.

    The Hindu faith is in some respects, an answer to this call. People seeking the spiritual realm.

    (My use of Clumsy with respect to our response, is to acknowledge our imperfect actions in general, no matter our faith system)

  • james warren

    The best biblical scholars must act as historians. They must deal with the facts, evidence and data impartially and then set out their opinions, interpretations and conjectures for peer and public review. The New Testament is a complex weave of remembered history, oral tradition, theologies, myths and metaphor. Scholars should have open and self-aware methodologies to separate the many strands woven into the text.

    There is a massive consensus that show Jesus actually existed. Do I or anyone else believe I am absolutely right about this? Of course not.

    I, like any other human amid the 7 billion we have, cherry-pick my own thoughts and feelings and go from there.

    I see the divine as “the beating heart” behind the cosmos. And I am perfectly willing to agree with other Christian believers that Jesus of Nazareth is the disclosure of God on earth. He did not glow in the dark nor walk on water. I do believe in the resurrection, but I know it had nothing to do with his body.

    That is a given. But after his death his followers overlaid a theological pattern on his life so his brutal death would make sense. This is a normal human thing to do. The Roman Empire did the same with their leaders as well.

  • james warren

    I have found that it is useful and illuminating to hear from atheists (and agnostics) and learn all about the God they don’t believe in. I usually find it to be the same God as conservative Christians profess–a supernatural being “out there” separate from our cosmos that breaks in from time to time to “cause” miracles in our human life.

    To be blunt, this idea of God is superficial and definitely not workable in the long run.

    Just my opinion indrag13.

    Am I sure that I am right? Of course not.

  • james warren

    No one cares?
    NO ONE?
    Really.
    It may have been more honest for you to simply say “I don’t care” while acknowledging there are many others that do.

  • indrag13

    James, I agree with you. To borrow a phrase we were instructed to use in the Navy: “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

  • james warren

    In Jesus’ day, Caesar was referred to as Savior of the World, born of a virgin and Son of God. These elevated titles were stamped on the coins and carved into the marble of the temples and buildings.

    It was no accident Jesus’ early followers used these same formulations to describe their own “great man.” It was a self-conscious act of high treason.

  • GregAbdul

    great nuanced writing.

  • okieggma

    You could say the exact same thing about the Greek and Roman gods, plenty of written and oral traditions have been left of their presence. Is their massive consensus that shows Jesus actually existed? Not really. After 2000 years still no hard evidence and in fact none of the surviving written records from that time mention him…..so the evidence points away from him as a real person and more towards another myth like Zeus and Thor. Sorry.

  • phatkhat

    Thanks for the links! I’ve not watched Constantine’s Sword, but want to, so…

    Perhaps cheekier and done in a sardonic way, but still making very good points, is Bill Maher’s Religulous.

  • phatkhat

    Interesting distillation… Though much is open to interpretation, especially Revelation.

  • james warren

    I am not convinced that Jesus was a myth. The parables alone–given that they totally dislocate the conventional wisdom of his day (and ours)–have convinced me that it would be beyond most first-century literary writers to come up with a believable and meaningful Jesus on their own.
    There is a massive consensus of historical scholarship that tells us Jesus was a real human being who taught people and died on a cross.
    It would be a great coup for atheists and agnostics to find out for sure that he never existed. I understand that. It is a normal, natural reaction.

  • james warren

    I have discovered that the gospels and Paul’s authentic letters contain remembered history, a developing oral tradition, metaphor, theologies, myth and legend.
    Biblical scholars today–the best ones in my opinion–are familiar with reading Aramaic and Greek and use the facts, evidence and data of real history to make their conjectures.

  • Joe Paulson

    in what? In telling a kid struggling in school that you “believe in her” doing well? In doing the right thing? Or is that word only about the supernatural?

  • Joe Paulson

    “love” is something a range of people, Christian and non-Christian have … so “Christian solution” is an interesting phrasing

  • Joe Paulson

    There is a range of “evidence” that Jesus existed … more than various other things taken normally as history.

  • Joe Paulson

    I think religious dramas of this sort can be good if done the right way. Like there was a right to life flick entitled “October Baby,” and as a strong pro-choice type, thought it went pretty well. After all the basic tropes of Christian fiction can easily be changed into pagan redemption dramas. Calling someone “Christian” often means “a good person.” Didn’t see this film — good cast. Always good to see Ted McGinley get work. Liked him in at least one of “the note” movies.

  • indrag13

    The title explains the subject matter Joe. Stay focused here and stop getting bent out of shape.

  • Joe Paulson

    Sorry, thought the comment opaque. The term “believe” is tossed out as a negative & I’m trying to get an idea of what you meant. shrugs.

  • indrag13

    I lean towards Agnostic, I can neither confirm nor deny, but to think that the major Patriarchal religions are it, that they are the answer and can’t otherwise be wrong is dogmatic. Beware of Dogmas I always say. I love religious history, it’s religion itself that I don’t accept.

  • Jim Reed

    The record from Paul says nothing of gospel Jesus or his life in Galilee. Paul talks of the heavenly Christ Jesus who he saw in a vision, but there is nothing in his writings that make him a man who lived just a few years earlier, even though there were many places in Paul where it would have been logical to talk of this man and his teachings and miracles if it was an actual story that Paul could use. Meanwhile, there is supposed to be an oral tradition of which there is no record, and which Paul would have been interested in if Jesus had actually lived a few years earlier. According to the Bible, there was no man Jesus of Nazareth until the gospels wrote the story decades later. It is too much of a stretch to say Paul knew of this man Jesus, and believed in him as the savior, and dedicated his life to preaching the gospel of salvation through Jesus, but didn’t care about the man or the oral traditions of him like stories of his miracles and teachings, and Paul didn’t care about what those who personally knew Jesus and were taught by him thought or said. The fact is Paul put his vision above the stories because there were no stories until they were written decades later.

  • james warren

    Noted.

    Paul says Jesus was “born of a woman” and does not seem to know of an empty tomb tradition.

    Paul knew Jesus thanks to an auditory hallucination he underwent after persecuting Christians.

  • okieggma

    Really? that would be what?

  • Joe Paulson

    Various historians, including agnostics and atheists like Bart Ehrman, have dealt with the evidence.

    The amount of oral and written material on some guy named Jesus (putting aside the mystical stuff — likewise, there were other people around then who there is no reason to think did not exist who was said to have some magical abilities/that part is less believable) is superior to a range of things some Jesus skeptic won’t have a problem with since maybe one or two sources referenced it.

    If we don’t trust Jesus existed, a whole lot more facts accepted as history regarding the past must be pretty hazy too.

  • Joe Paulson

    A lot of the synoptic gospels don’t seem to be about “a spirit type being” to my reading. Guy seems pretty flesh and blood to me & the “Q” source in particular (the earliest material) has that.

    There is no real reason to doubt that the general preachings here were “fiction” — they are comparable to thoughts and beliefs arising in that time and place. The talk of “exorcisms” also fit this; it matches the understandings of the era & other people were thought to cast out demons. The resurrection stuff is likely a late edition, growing out of some sort of religious experiences of some believers after he died.

  • Joe Paulson

    Perhaps but a neutral pronoun does add a certain meaning to it. Do people “know” the Holy Spirit more than they know God? Many don’t call God “it” though. So, why call HS “it”?

  • Jim Reed

    What is it? It is a mystery.

  • Joe Paulson

    I thought It was a Stephen King monster.

    God and the Holy Spirit are mysteries, I gather, but God isn’t called “It” generally. Why is that?

    Anyway, I gather the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the energy or something of God that provides a means of humans to experience the divine.

  • Serai 1

    Cybill Shepherd? * sigh * That’s sad. I guess her dedication to the Goddess wasn’t as deep as she pretended.

  • Serai 1

    Cherry-picking is childish, self-serving, and boring – no matter who does it.

  • Serai 1

    And why should we care, exactly?

  • Serai 1

    I just wish they were better written. The scripts for these films tend to suck big time.

  • indrag13

    nobody cares if you care so don’t mention it.

  • Joe Paulson

    More likely to be low budget/amateur & focused on the message over the quality, but sure, even believers like well written sermons. It’s like say gay or lesbian films. Lots of not that good stuff there.

  • james warren

    *sigh*

    Ouch! Immature responses are to be expected. I prefer informed conversations instead of name-calling and labeling.

    Jesus was a Jew, a first-century peasant nobody living in the Roman Empire.It is a given that Jesus is probably someone not too congenial with us.

    He said his message was only for the Jews and he called Gentiles like me “dogs” and mocked their prayer style.

  • Jim Reed

    I believe religion previously defined it that way, but religion has evolved since then. What they thought thousands of years ago is different from what they think today.

  • Joe Paulson

    I think the general definition given holds true today — many people still think HS means something like that. As to gender usage, seems “it” is common, but the link suggests some groups still use other genders.

  • Jim Reed

    We are still evolving on the issue.

  • indrag13

    I don’t buy the idea of a real Jesus existing. But it is interesting that his entire life is identical to Horus centuries before.

  • james warren

    Horus, Superman, Jesus, Appollonius of Tyana, Steve Jobs, Caesar and many other real and imagined people share similar mythic overlays.

    There are about three noteworthy scholars who believe Jesus was a myth: G.A. Wells, Robert Price and somebody else. If it wasn’t for the parables, I might agree only if a scholarly consensus did as well.

    I cannot imagine anyone making up a character who said God is unclean.

  • okieggma

    That is a lot of words but…..you did not say anything. You did not cite any evidence however vague.

  • Joe Paulson

    I cited a source (there being many), the presence of historical/written evidence & noted the evidence of others in the era that shows Jesus is not an atypical character of that sort. I’m just a local pizza lawyer, but that is “evidence.” You are the one “not saying anything.”

    If you don’t want to actually read such people or tell me why they should not be accepted (or either note you are similarly skeptical of tons of accepted historical details based on the same or less but doesn’t involve Jesus), be my guest.

    Simply put, other than damning it because (like other historical figures who were given mystical qualities we ignore w/o assuming they didn’t exist) the amount of oral and written material merely in the first century, and not all from Christians, provides good evidence some preacher named Jesus existed. Noted that “no there isn’t” says it faster.

  • Jim Reed

    There were 1st century preachers named Jesus, but I think for purposes of Christianity today, the problem is none of the books of the New Testament are about such a person. Paul wrote about a heavenly Christ that Christians of that day were finding in Old Testament scriptures. The gospels were written later, and making up stories that we know are just stories because they are about a man from the beginning of the century, but the written record from the middle of the century doesn’t have these stories. They are fiction.

  • Jim Reed

    The historical scholarship is based on apologetics. What scholars of today can say for sure is the New Testament is full of stories of miracles that didn’t actually happen. Because of the hundreds and thousands of years of tradition of the religion, everyone wants to believe at least some of it must be true, but their major reason for thinking that way is what they feel in their hearts.

  • james warren

    To say that historical scholarship is based on apologetics is an unfair communication technique. You probably meant to say that “often” historical facts, evidence and data are interpreted through an apologetic lens. The work of Jewish, atheist and agnostic scholars are finally getting a public seat at the table and helping us enlarge the pool of meaning.

    Growing up in a Judeo-Christian myth, it is not surprising that much of the historical work we are exposed to takes metaphor and myth literally. But not all scholars do this. Both atheists and conservative believers tend to take sacred language literally. The Christian takes it seriously and the atheists and/or agnostics deem it nonsense.

  • james warren

    Someone once defined religion as sitting in a chair in front of a window and staring out at the distance.

    The sense of the sacred and divine is necessarily mediated through a particular culture and time and place.

    At its core, it is not about a man with a long beard who lives in the sky.

  • Jim Reed

    We don’t really have any Q source, and the flesh and blood feel to it can just be an illusion.

    The part about Peter and James knew Jesus personally and Paul only knew him in a vision is really from the stories in the later gospels. Paul didn’t inquire about the life of Jesus from them because they were just from the Jerusalem church, and they had no more contact with Jesus than Paul did. Once you see the way the story was ultimately put together by the later church, it all makes sense. James was refered to as a brother of Christ beause he was not an apostle like Peter, he was just one of the brothers, like the rest of the church.

    Paul wrote a lot, and here is a list of some of the things that should have been different if the later gospel stories were out there in Paul’s day. This is from a book, “The End of an Illusion”.

    2 Corintians 5:5 as a guarantee of life immortal God has sent the Spirit. Why didn’t Paul refer to God sending Jesus?

    2 Cor. 5:18-19 why did Paul receive from God the ministry of reconciliation and God qualified him to dispense the new covenant. Why Paul in parallel to Moses’ splendor in administering the old covenant? Why no mention of Jesus?

    Why God’s salvation, the mystery of Christ unknown through the ages, now revealed for the first time through Paul’s gospel? (Romans 16:25-27) (Titus 1:2-3)

    Why in Galatians 1 did Paul say he got his gospel about Jesus from no man, but from revelation?

    Paul praised those who did not marry. Could he have mentioned Jesus’ praise of those who renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom?

    Paul urged believers to “bless those who persecute you”. No mention of that teaching by Jesus.

    Romans 15:19 to bring gentiles to Christ he mentions his signs and wonders. Didn’t mention the much greater miracles of gospel Jesus.

    1 Corinthians 1:22 Paul scoffs at Jews who call for miracles. No mention of the tons of miracles that Jesus already worked.

    This is not an issue of Paul leaving out a couple of things. Everything from Jesus that could have been used is not there. At some point all this combined with the fact that the writings that did include Jesus were at the end of the first century and beyond leads one to think Christianity at the time of Paul (first half of the first century) had no Jesus of Nazareth. It started out as a Christianity of the heavenly Christ, and only later became the Christianity of the man, Jesus.

  • Jim Reed

    That is true. It seems like it has been a long process to get to where we are today.

  • Jim Reed

    I think many of us have been sitting in a chair in front of a window and staring at the TV.

  • james warren

    I find the biblical literacy of most believers is astounding.

    –Mark was the first gospel and both Luke and Matthew clearly follow his order and redact his details to present their own agendas.
    –As far as authentic historical records of Jesus’ unique “voice print” the gospel of John is useless.
    –Jesus said his mission was to the House of Israel and not to the gentiles, whom he mocked their prayer style and called them “dogs.”
    –Neither Jesus nor John the Baptizer (and other traditions found from the Hebrew Bible) believed in or advocated a bloody sacrifice to come before God.
    –I read about a study that claimed a majority of biblical-based believers cannot name even one of Paul’s authentic letters.

    They claim to see the Bible as the inerrant word of God, yet they still insist their interpretation of it is also inerrant.

  • Jim Reed

    It makes sense because if you want inerrant that is the only to do it and deal with the contradictions.

  • Joe Paulson

    I’ll reply combined here (note your separate reply). You note the gospels are “fiction” — this is simply not shown. At best, you have a case it might be fiction. The burden to erase “might” is not met.

    Jesus preaching, doing things that at the time was seen as “exorcisms” etc. are not fantastical things. Christians today (as someone else notes) have a range of historical scholarship, not just apologetic material, on their side there. The material rests on as much or more than we have on other things that people as a whole don’t doubt has a reasonable — as much as we can tell about the distant past — sense of history to it. The fact this is about Jesus shouldn’t change that. It’s bias.

    Unclear what “really” means — if you mean some original “Q” book, fine, but that is true about loads of things. We don’t have originals of lots of things; experts determine it by implication and study. It takes time for the oral traditions in place to develop into the texts we have including various late first century non-biblical writings from Christians. This principle is applied by historians and other experts to determine the validity of other sources and facts too. Doubting Jesus here forms ripples but from what I can tell, few want to be THAT skeptical.

    We have something like seven letters that probably came from Paul, written in a remarkably narrow time period given the time of his overall ministry (the first was c. 50; he notes he was a believer in Christ for over a decade; the last was probably a few years before he died). Yes, he wrote “a lot.” We have seven letters, to a few places. It’s a drop in the bucket. And, since people change over time, it doesn’t even provide a clear-cut complete idea of his views; plus they are written for a limited purpose. Tossing out a few verses doesn’t help me much; and, sure, I can’t answer “why” he did or said a lot of things. It’s at best supposition.

    I don’t think your citations suggest Paul didn’t think Jesus was a flesh and blood person. I note you cite Titus. Paul probably didn’t write it. Yes, he had a revelation — unlike Peter etc., he apparently didn’t meet Jesus. Paul also wasn’t much concerned with Jesus’ life, including his miracles. He apparently knew about it — he met Peter at least, who surely told him about Jesus’ life. But, Paul did say he was “born,” “died” and “buried.” A spirit does not do those things.

    You suppose that he didn’t seek out info because it didn’t exist. Need to back that up somehow. It is more logical to suppose there really was a preacher like Jesus (a follower of John the Baptist, who we also have a record of from written sources), oral stories developed about him, time passes as things were added on & followers who were strongly attracted to him had some sort of religious experience (again fitting into the character of ancient beliefs) that added the supernatural aspects.

    Paul does use Jesus in Corinthians as a source for his marriage views; a few examples can be found where he cites or alludes to Jesus’ teachings. Again, since we only have a few letters, we really can’t tell what Paul said in writing and while (as was generally the case) orally preaching the gospel. The letters weren’t meant like the gospels to talk about Jesus’ biography. They were to deal with matters of doctrine & real world problems in a few communities. But, even in this limited sense, Jesus comes off as someone who lived & died in the flesh.

  • Joe Paulson

    It’s a normal, natural reaction in a fashion, but on balance, it’s a reach. The skeptical mind here, if having to choose, would say that Jesus existed & that the supernatural part is wrong. Adding, that it is far from novel for humans to be wrongly treated as gods, especially back in the past when people were more open to the idea. Toss in that Jesus wasn’t the only one around that time that was thought to commit “miracles” etc.

  • Jim Reed

    Saying Peter surely told him about Jesus’ life means we don’t really know that, ant the “surely” means if the gospels are true then he must have, but the gospel stories are what are in question. We can all see 90% of the gospels are made up, and the question is about if there is actually 10% of the gospels that are true. Those who want to believe have a feeling that Jesus comes off as a real person here. Others look at the 90% or more that is fiction, and they are less sure.

    The writings about Jesus from late first century are a problem for Christians. The primary thing that is always mentioned is Josephus. That passage sounds fake. It is never quoted by Christians until the 4th century, and there were earlier Christians quoting Josephus for other reasons, but not that part. It sounds like what a later Christian apologist would write, and not what Josephus would write. I think we have to conclude Christians added that to Josephus in the 4th century. It is still widely quoted in apologetics today because even though it is obviously false, it is still the best evidence of Jesus that the Christians have.

  • Joe Paulson

    Scholars have found some value in John — e.g., some argue it has signs of being the work of a developing tradition, one where earlier tidbits are apparent. What Jesus “said” is clearly somewhat unclear; what John “believed” even more so.

    I’m a bit surprised really that “a majority” is not aware of the epistle to the Romans — you’d think even guessing they might say that.

  • james warren

    Heaven on earth for too many of us….

  • james warren

    There are many different traditions and theologies in the Bible, including what Christians call the “Old” Testament.
    As far as the first-century patriarchal family goes, Jesus made many savage attacks on the family values of his day and did so very, very often.

  • james warren

    We need to be accountable for our own childish, self-serving and perhaps boring behavior. And to take the metaphor seriously, the fact is we live in a vast orchard of cherry trees and are basically condemned to navigate our own way through.
    Of course I NEVER cherry-pick. That’s because I am right and everybody else is wrong.
    Hmmmm….

  • james warren

    Movie scripts?
    They spread the myths of the day. Seeing movies is a bit like smuggling a book through customs. Once it gets into your head, your subconscious takes of the silly wrapper and sees the underlying mythical truth.

  • james warren

    Personally, I don’t think I grasp many ultimate mysteries or infinite concepts. I call my ignorance trust. That’s the way the word “faith” was understood in Jesus’ day.

  • james warren

    Religious concepts are evolving traditions. When their myths no longer work, they are changed or discarded.

  • Jim Reed

    Working is defined as getting people to join and stay in the church.

  • james warren

    The BARMA Group, the accepted polling service for Christianity, recently said the largest growing population among Christians is “the Un-Churched.”

  • james warren

    An inability to face our own human shortcomings might cause one to deny that they will never have the “whole story.” I am curious as to why you call cherry-picking “childish.”

    Maybe the metaphor of “fabricating faith” with topiary might help me get this across. Topiary is that talent that shapes bushes into animals like foxes and dinosaurs.

    Reality is like untended bushes and we all do our personal “cutting away” of everything that does not look like an animal. Then our creation can be revealed.

    Or try this: Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus were lying on their backs looking at clouds:

    ***Lucy: Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud’s formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

    ***Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean.

    [Linus points up]

    ***Linus: That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there… [Linus points] …gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

    ***Lucy: Uh huh. That’s very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

    ***Charlie Brown: Well… I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

    In other words, we all do the best we can with what is offered. I hope you can understand what my point is now.

  • james warren

    So you believe in “not believing.”
    😉

  • james warren

    You might be right, Jim.

  • Veritas

    I’d agree with you 100%on that. It wasn’t my phrase, but the authors. I would say that a Christian response to a problem is love, simply because, if I you are a Christian, you are called to answer with love.

    Others may as well, but not everyone would.

  • Veritas

    A common Christian understanding is that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity. One God, three persons contained within. How is this? A mystery, but one concept is based on “God is love”. Not that God loves, but His essence is “to Love”. Love requires a relation of 1. lover, 2. beloved, and 3. the act of love itself. In the Trinity would then be 1. Father, 2. Son, 3. Holy Spirit ( the love of the Father towards the Son)

    (God cannot be an “IT” because this implies that God is a being, but in the Judeo-Christian theology, God is not a being, but the very act of Being. “I Am, Who Am”)

  • Joe Paulson

    okay. “love” is an open-ended term that needs details … various religious positions provide different meanings

  • Joe Paulson

    “the very act of Being” sounds like a concept that the neuter can apply to (something like “Truth” or something) as much as the common usage of “he” which seems incomplete at best … wish not to debate doctrine much here honestly but as an objective matter, this pronoun usage is correct

  • Judith Maxfield

    Sir? or Madam: You apparently know nothing of Jesus’s teachings or how to read 2000 yr. old text. The text may state something while pointing to something else. Its a kind of literature that is not a “how to” or 21thC history. This text bastardization is also found in the ignorant conservative toxic food dished out every Sunday and then some. Why not ask, “What can this possibly mean?” I too wondered about this. How could this be in the face of ALL the other stories in the four Gospels? You can’t cherry pick only what grabs you. For instance, Abe Lincoln in 1860 said he would not have war to free the slaves. Oh dear. He’s a horrible man. Do you see what I am trying to say to you? What is the whole picture or story here? Stop and think, better yet, reflect inwardly. Fr. Richard Rohr has a good take on the meaning if you care to check it to. Or, are you a one-man demolition team in your hubris? I now understand the meaning of that saying. Its very insightful. Do you want to know more? Ask.

  • Judith Maxfield

    James: We all say stupid things before our life is over. To “cherry pick” one stupid thing in someone’s life and therefore judge that person as horrible forever is childish. Wouldn’t you agree?

  • james warren

    I agree, but truth be told I judge others this same way all too often.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Why I dislike going to Jesus movies……..
    One thing that really really bothers me is the over used word “belief”. I’ve learned word meanings can change over a long time. In grammar one can say “I believe that……… , indicating a position taken with certainty. What is different when its said “I believe in….? I like that Marcus Borg, theologian and published college professor (now deceased) would bring word meanings up. In his teachings, word meanings were important and how they changed in the context of cultures and time. To say “I believe in love, democracy, mommy or daddy” is implying a trust held in something or someone; of being faithful to essence of that something. The word faithful comes from fidelity, – coming from or being faithful to the original. BTW: Radical actually means returning to the original model or source. You can correct me if I’m wrong but this is what I understand.

    Sometimes when my church says the Nicene Creed, we are asked to use the word trust rather than believe. Some in my community say they don’t “believe” in the Creed because of problems with it. “Trust” seems to make it more clear. When writing came into being and the Septuagint (Greek) Hebrew Bible, 2nd, 3rd BCE, was codified in writing, there is scripture story of the written word being questioned. Prior to that the art of oral tradition was the way and an actual profession. Seventy-two scholars separately translated the exact wording from older sources, the point being religious leaders were very concerned and careful over words in text. I wish we could be as careful.

    Finally, I and most of my Episcopal friends refused to see Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, mainly because he and others doing doing Jesus stories tend to cherry pick only parts of the four canons of the Gospel, (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) mixing up parts into what they want it to be. What happens, is that they turn history into fact, and fact into metaphor. No wonder we go off and invent belief to our own selfi whatever. Check out somewhere on RD what Daniel Kaufmann, philosophy professor posts about being in established liturgical church communities so you’re not going alone on this by yourself or with an over zealous egomaniac, unscholarly minister/preacher who’s invented his own version of faith, listening only himself.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Isn’t it great and a relief to confess the childish things we do? The news is if we are really growing up, it may be we are doing it less and less. Confession is actually good for the Soul. I like finding out I’m only human, don’t have to pretend to be so prefect and still beloved! Thanks be to God.

  • Judith Maxfield

    I like this! Good for you.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Have you watched “House of Cards”? Another version of the same saying.

  • Judith Maxfield

    I see you are talking about yourself

  • james warren

    I agree. I used to worry about “finishing business” with others before I die and keeping to the 12-step tenet of “making amends.” I finally got to the point where I finish my business in the present moment with everyone. I still pretend perfection at times but I don’t let myself get away with it too often these days.

  • Judith Maxfield

    I absolutely agree. In church and in other good places I’ve learned to live a transparent life – at least 98% of the time. What you see is what you will get. i can sleep at night, not worry about the IRS or any other human authority. I ask for forgiveness the minute I know I blew it – (blowing it may take a bit of time in reflection over what the issue was). The past dean of Grace Cathedral and a writer, Most Rev. Alan Jones said -sorta- the cross is your guiding mentor in telling the truth – and when to do it, which also matters. Does what you say “serve” the cross,( actually its meaning to you). Otherwise your truth may not benefit your brothers and sisters of the world. This does not mean telling someone they’re going to Hell! the first and greatest commandment is love. If you get that, all else follows. Good idea to sleep on.

  • james warren

    I return again and again to a bit of 2,000-year-old pop psychology:
    Recognize and be accountable for the logs in my own eye before I deem to point out the speck of sawdust in my brother and sister’s.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Its philosophy, mental health concealing all rolled into one. Let those who hear, hear, those who see, see.

  • Serai 1

    Don’t be disingenuous. There’s a difference between not having all the answers and DELIBERATELY choosing answers that will ONLY prop up your own side, while ignoring the answers that won’t.

  • james warren

    When we were children we have all lay down in the grass and looked up at the clouds. Some saw horses, some saw squirrels, some saw giraffes. Everybody creates their own reality.

    We live in an immense orchard of cherry trees and we all cherry-pick the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that make sense to us.

    If anyone actually believes their finite mind can take in and harvest the entire crop, then arrogance is on the loose.